Keep Your Eyes on the House – Farm Bill 2013
This week, the U.S. House of representatives will be debating the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013. The bill is the latest of the bills passed every 5 years that have come to be known generally as “the Farm Bill”. Considering that the largest parts of the “farm bill” are more directly related to food than to agriculture, it would better top call it the “Food Bill”. As Scott Neuman of NPR explains, the phrase is derived from the first of the series of bills which in the 1930s sought to control the prices of food crops by paying farmers not to farm. Since then, programs relating to forestry, conservation, farmer assistance in crisis management, farmers markets, organic produce, and food and nutrition assistance for needy families have been included in the farm bill. In sum, the bill includes the US government’s policies related to the rural economy, the environment, and all aspects of food. The bill also sets a model that many developing country elites are tempted to follow.
The debate over this year’s farm bill is becoming increasingly contentious, not only because Congress failed to pass a farm bill last year, but because cuts, reductions, and consolidations are dominating the Congressional debates. Last week the Senate passed its version of the farm bill, titled the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013, which included cuts to essential farm bill programs like food and nutrition assistance and conservation programs. The Senate bill cut $4 billion from the food and nutrition programs, but the House bill, which will be voted on this week, proposes $20 billion in cuts. The Atlantic’s Chin Jou has written a compelling breakdown of the proposed cuts. In order to qualify for food assistance, families of four need to make no more than $30,615 per year, hardly enough to even eek by. Currently, families that qualify receive $133 per person, per month. The House bill proposes cutting this number to $90. In Jou’s analysis, this makes it pretty much impossible for families receiving food assistance to eat anything resembling a healthy diet. The only food that a person could afford on $3 a day is disturbingly cheap and nutritionally destructive, processed foods. The farm bill plays a major role in the health of the US population.
In addition, to cuts in the food assistance programs, the House farm bill falls short on taking steps toward an alternative agricultural future. The National Organic Association recently released a report describing the failure of the House bill to meet the needs of organic growers. The bill does not provide assistance to farmers to pay for the expensive organic certification process; the bill does not provide mandatory funding to ensure that the USDA collects separate data on organic agriculture; the bill also does not provide resources for organic farmers to collect and store seeds and organic plant breeds that are vital for organic farmers to adapt to regional soil and climate variations.
We need a farm bill that supports the health and well-being of people living in the United States. This includes providing adequate nutritional support so that families can purchase healthy and sustainably produced foods. It means that the farm bill should support urban and community gardening that would help families to grow their own food, instead of relying on unhealthy processed foods. The farm bill should support new farmers, especially small-farmers who are more likely to farm organically. Soon, the US will experience a shortage of farmers because the vast majority of them are nearing the age of retirement. Important too, is the fact that, of the new small farmers breaking soil around the country, a large portion of them are women. Since 2002, the number of farms run by women has increased by 30%. Many of these women are working to expand small, organic farms throughout the country. This is the type of agricultural future that we need in the United States, but, as far as we can see, this bill will not make that vision a reality.
Call your representatives today, and tell them that we need something better!